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May 21, 2012



If it makes you feel any better, I totally related to Charlotte, even though I'm young and single. And I didn't really relate to Jane (but I still liked reading about her).

Tiffany L.

Thank you for this. I have been in book clubs where a typical reaction to a book was, "I didn't like it." And the analysis goes no deeper than that.

There have been dozens of books I haven't liked, but that doesn't mean they didn't move me, make me think, force me a squirm a little, and ultimately change me. As an avid reader, I like to think I am the sum of all the stories I have read throughout my life. And just like I think a mature writer gets beyond "write what you know," a mature reader will step outside of relate-ability toward a broader literary base.

AND, I think we teach our children that narrow-mindedness by not exposing them to all types of literature at a young age. I have read Pippi Longstocking, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and several other "girl-type" books to my boys. They never once complained that they couldn't relate to a red-head Swede with a trunk full of gold pieces.


For me reading has always been about 'going out' with a character to do things I'd never have the courage to do in real life on my own ... and I honestly had never given thought to the gender of that MC before I got to college; now I've been through classes that cause me to often analyze myself just as often as I do the characters!

As far as having an MC of a specified gender goes, I believe the story dictates that - "River Secrets", for example, would be quite a different book if the MC was Dasha and not Razo - not better (if such a thing exists for ANY book) but different. And sure, that way we'd have a whole series all having girl MCs, but it just had the feeling of being HIS story. No matter the gender, one should be allowed to tell one's own story.


I love your reflections on writing. It is true that it is easier for me to read a book when the character is a type that I can relate to. Girl? Yep, I'm one of those. Teen girl? I was one of those. Single? I was before I was married. Wife and mother? Check. As far as boys go, I've had brothers and am married to a man, so I can relate to those too. The only book I've ever read that I couldn't get into was by Louis L'Amour. The story was great, but the character was so melancholy, and opposite of anything I could relate to, so I didn't get far with the book. That doesn't mean it wasn't a great book, though. It just wasn't for me. I'm a big believer that if I don't like a book, it doesn't mean it's a bad book, it means it just wasn't for me.


What a wonderful post!


Jo Schaffer

YESSSSSSSS. I have found that no matter who the MC is-- if it is written truthfully and well-- I'm in.

Claire Gerland

I almost all ways read as a self reflection but I am trying to grow as a reader I can get invested in characters that are unlike me. With one exeption I have a ridiculous amount of difficulty getting invested in any book that features a hubristic "hero". They just annoy me. Unfortanatly Hubris is the classic heroic flaw. So there are a lot of books about hubristic heroes :(


As always with your posts this really made me think! I am going to use you as an example (although I do this with every author) but I found you in the young adult section and love all your YA books. Then I discovered you wrote adult books too! (As a sidenote...when I told this to a friend at the time she thought it meant you wrote porn - I guess 'adult book' meant something else to her!) Anyhow, I liked Austenland, loved Midnight, and disliked An Actor and a Housewife although I thought all three were well written. Looking back at the times I read the books I realized that I was married (and so I think I related more to Midnight), Austenland made me reminisce, and Housewife kept reminding me of my parents infidelity (I know it's not in there at all, it was just my own issues coming through while reading). So much of our 'likes' do come from our comfort zones, whether that it a place we are in our lives or what we think about, i.e. our fantasy escape lands (you know you all have them!)
p.s. I love reading and commenting but ignore the misspelling, I am usually writing this on my phone at the playground while watching my kids hence bad grammer, spelling, and scattered thoughts!


I'm young and single, and of all your books I adored "The Actor and the Housewife" the most.
When I read a book, I don't self-project into the story. I don't imagine myself as the main character and try to live the story through his or her shoes. Just like when I write, I'm not inserting a more interesting me as the main character. Very often, the characters I read and write about are very different from me, with different views on life and moral values. That's what I like about it. Reading a story isn't about getting to live a different life. It's about getting to meet someone new. It's about getting to know him or her, and becoming a friend (or enemy). When it's someone I can't relate well to, then the story now has a bit of a mystery to it, and try to puzzle out and understand who this person is and why they do and think and live the way they do like I'm a "Criminal Minds" profiler. We've all had that one friend that's nothing like us, the one we love because they are so different and surprise and delight (and sometimes horrify) us by introducing us to new things. It's funny how a book, when given the chance, can do the same thing.


I don't really have anything to add - but I did want to say thank you for posting this. I'ts given me something to think about.


Someone posted a question on a forum I read that said:

"I need some help with some 'homework' I've been given and am sure you ladies can help me out.
I'm meant to look for examples of good, strong man/woman, wife/husband relationships. I know a few in real life, but movies and books were mentioned as worthwhile too (which is possibly some of the most fun-sounding 'homework' I've ever been assigned). The idea isn't for fluffy romcoms, but for depictions of GOOD men and women being good to each other (or at least good men existing), romance not necessary. Thinking about it, I think the idea is to see men being decent, good people - not perfect, but decent. Which does open the nets a little wider."

The first book that popped into my mind was TAATH. I replied to her query with: "Shannon Hale wrote The Actor And The Housewife. I almost NEVER re-read a book (too many I'll never get to), but I've now read that one twice and totally love it. Great male characters."

But the other thing I didn't tell her was, I wish Becky were a real person because I'd want to be friends with her. I felt such a kinship with her. You developed all the characters in that story so well, I'm disappointed it's fiction. That's the mark of a good story in my opinion. I love all your books, but that's an absolute favorite, and I think it would be SUCH a great movie! I so wish it was in production!!! (Jerusha??? Stephanie????) I have "be an extra in a movie" on my bucket list...so maybe someday you'll make TAATH into a film and that dream can come true. :-)

So - any suggestions?

Laree @ Ever Heard of Euless

First of all, I'm craving a banana split now!

Second of all, I don't see why I have to be in the same area of life to relate to a character. I've never been attacked by an evil wizard, but I found Harry relatable(of course, I've never been a 11 year old boy either).

But I was 11 once. And I've always wanted to be magic.

I'm not divorced, but I have a crazy overactive imagination. I was screaming internally with Charlotte when she found that hand.

More than anything, MC needs to be relatable. Some readers need it to be more in line with their own situations than others. For me it's the ideas the character has, how they grow, how it makes me think. That's more important than whether or not I've lived a life similar to theirs.


I just barely finished reading Midnight in Austenland and I have to say that although I am not divorced and my kids are much younger than Charlotte's, I still found ways to relate to her and I loved it!

I do think that if a MC is written well, and if you as a reader are given the opportunity to get to know that characters personality traits you can almost always find something in common with them, regardless of sex, age, marital or parental status. Granted, as an overall person they may differ from you greatly, but usually there is some trait you have in common and that helps remind all of us how much more similar we are than different. I think that helps you be invested in people in real life more too, especially when you meet someone that is similar to one of those MCs!

Thank you for all your books so far! I can't wait to read more!


I've been thinking about the unrelatable MC a lot lately because I just started watching Mad Men. I'm almost done with season 2 and I still can't decide if I like it or not. Don Draper is almost completely unlikable (to me) although I guess some people find him appealing. What's the point of the show? To redeem him? To have the viewer feel superior to him? To feel smug because he has to pay for his sins?

Anyways, it's made me think a lot about MCs who are either hard to relate to, unlikable, or unrealistic. Why do you, as a reader, have to like the main character? Aren't you just reading a story about a fictional character? Who said the character has to be a perfect fit for your interests and tastes? Is this part of the consumer-centric culture that promises something tailored to everyone?

Sometimes authors use certain types of character as a crutch to prop up a book with a boring plot or other fatal flaws, but less-discerning readers don't seem to be as bothered by this.


Interesting...for me, character is important in whether I like a book or not, but not what makes me pick up a book or put it down. My comment when I first heard about Midnight in Austenland, and when I finished reading it, was, "Mystery...Austen...written by Shannon Hale; I think this book was written just for me!" I still feel that way, even though I'm younger than Charlotte and happily married. I am a mom, though, so that helped me relate, but I found her very relatable even though we're in different life stages.

Amelia Loken

I am a thirty-something married mom. I went on all the adventures with your teenaged girls and loved them all.

But I love your Mommy characters. I LOVED Charlotte Kinder and my heart went out to her. Her fears for her children and her own identity felt real to me. I loved Becky and though I couldn't ALWAYS relate, I tried to think of her as a girlfriend who was telling me her story.

Just to let you know. All of your books have moved me...in different ways and at different times.

But though I felt a little arms-length from Becky sometimes, other times, I was right there with her (folding laundry). I wanted to hold her and give her the biggest hug her as she talked about the animal-morphic forms of grief. I went through half a box of Kleenex and laughed harder in that book than most of my reads (i.e. easy, just-let-me-escape novels). It wasn't my favorite, but it was like enjoying good dark chocolate with salted caramels...not all sweet and light, but sooo very good to those who were willing to taste all of the notes.

Clarissa Gregory

I loved Midnight in Austenland, and I am a young, perpetually single, BYU co-ed. I feel like people, particularly in my demographic, see marriage as the happily ever after of their lives. For now, we work, we study, we think- but in the future if we choose well we'd like to believe we'll have a husband who will only say kind things and constantly make us feel beautiful. We'd like to believe we'll have children who will think we are the coolest ever. And we tend to think if either fails to materialize, we'll that would be an irrefutable "Game Over". Divorce and family troubles only happen to other people, ones who do something to "deserve" it.
But reading Midnight in Austenland, I see that we are wrong. Happily Ever After is something that each individual has to constantly choose, no one else can give it to us or take it away. There is life before, during, and even after marriage. And bad things happen to good people, but good people can choose to make the most of their lot.


hmmm...this is exactly opposite what I have done. I'm still a teenager, but looking back, I've always gravitated towards books with older main characters. Based on discussions with friends, I don't think that's uncommon.
Maybe it's because when young we look ahead at what's to come, that we see ourselves in the future relating to these characters? Maybe younger main characters often sound more childish? But, of course, each book is different.
I recently read a book (one you recommended on your yearly round up, in fact), with an MC two years younger than me. I used to think about the same things as the MC, but now those worries sound silly and I'm glad to put those things behind me.

Dr. Sallie N. Cheinsteen

Dang, that banana split looks good. Personally, I loved Midnight in Austenland, much more so than Austenland, even though Charlotte Kinder is in a completely different place in life than I am. I don't think it matters who or where a character is, it's their emotions that strike a chord with us. I understood Charlotte's feelings of wanting to find herself again, of her fears and worries, and doubts. Emotions, I think, are incredibly universal, and to find them in new stories with new characters for me is wonderful and rewarding. Recently, I've been finding that I even love middle grade books, and was surprised that I would like the genre when the stories feel so much younger than I am. Put in a good character and a good plot, though, and I'm sold. That's all that matters to me, in the end... many books that may technically be called "appropriate" for my age don't have the basic qualities of a good story, so what would be the use in reading them? I just need to feel what life is like from a different perspective when I read. When that happens, my world is better.


Midnight in Austenland and What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty are the two books my friends and I have read recently with main characters about or age in a similar stage of life and I loved them both. Much more so than a lot of other highly recommended best sellers. I recommend them to everyone and think they should sell millions or copies each. I think there is a market and I don't think it is a death sentence for a book to have a mom as a main character.


Millions OF. Typing on my phone..


I'm a single college student, but I still relate to both Becky and Charlotte, perhaps because rather than seeing myself in them, I see aspects of the kind of person I would like to be. Books I like are about people who I admire in some way, and books I don't like are the ones about people I don't like. Lately, the books I dislike are about people who are selfish and/or hedonistic. (I'm stunned at how much of contemporary literature revolves around selfish and hedonistic characters, actually.)


To echo what a lot of others have said. . .I'm 19, single, and childless, but I loved Charlotte and related to her well. I related to her in a lot of ways, but I best related to her over-active imagination, which I think is something that affects people of all ages. I loved being able to read about someone who had an over-active imagination like me :)


Oh. Now I want ice cream.
For me, liking a character is a combination of amusement and understanding--if I find the character clever or charming or endearing, and I can also understand their motives, I'm willing to go along with them no matter what their situation in life, or how different they might be from me.


I have a question for you that isnt really part of the post but I REALLY have to know: Im pretty young and just finished the books of Bayern series. Its awesome! I just HAVE to know this:
What hapens next?? Ive been thinking of that over and over and over again. Do Razo and Dasha get married? What happened to Rin?? Is theire anyone else we might want to meet?? I know its pretty old but I really want to know!! Can you answer it in a different post??? Or by email? This is an awesome post byt the way!


actually i think in young adult literature the main character can be a girl and widely relatable if she is not too girly or a tomboy, like the hunger games


also it isnt always about the reader being similar to the character; if the author can relate to their character or is similar to their character in some way, they can create a character that is understandable because they can explain what the reader might not understand


there was recently a book about a character who went to a mental hospital and apparently the author spent a week at a mental hospital and then wrote the book in a month; the book was an instant bestseller, probably because the author really got the character across to the reader

Connie Onnie

What I think is funny is I shy away from books through teenage boys perspectives, just the idea of being stuck inside a teenage boys head makes me shudder.

Borse Louis Vuitton

ma anche catturato il favore del settore della moda, molti marchi hanno inviti a parlare, la sua personalità fresca non convenzionale, rispecchia involontariamente la sua pigrizia, un affascinante stile musicale magico, è diventato l'icona di moda.

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